Paige Parker’s well-documented dominance in the pitching circle tends to cover up mistakes she or her Truman teammates might make.
In Thursday’s Class 4 District 15 semifinal at Fort Osage, Parker’s hitting ability erased some of the Patriots’ earlier struggles at the plate.
Parker’s two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth broke a scoreless tie with Kearney, and she fired a complete-game one-hitter with 14 strikeouts as defending state champion Truman advanced to today’s 4 p.m. district finals with a 5-0 win over the Bulldogs.
Truman (26-3) will play Liberty (22-9), which downed Fort Osage in the second semifinal.
“She can do it all, no doubt about that,” Kearney coach Paul Lorbert said of Parker, who finished 4-for-4 at the plate.
After a caught stealing ended Truman’s last at-bat, Brooke VunCannon started the fifth with a single through the right side. Maya Coen popped up her bunt attempt for an out, the third such occurrence for Truman on the day, but VunCannon advanced anyway on a wild pitch. Then, with the count 2-2, Parker clubbed a missile over the right-field fence to make it 2-0.
“I was just focused on getting the ball in play,” Parker said. “It just happened to go out. It’s good that Brooke got on to lead off; it gave us some momentum.
Though the game was scoreless, Parker said she didn’t feel any added pressure to help herself.
“I see hitting as a release from defense and being a pitcher,” she said, “and I can always count on my teammates to help me.”
Kearney (18-10) pitcher Micah Allen, a 5-foot-3-inch freshman, made a gallant effort in the circle, and while Lorbert said he thought of walking Parker, who had stroked two singles already, in the fifth inning, he ultimately decided to take his chances that Allen wouldn’t give Parker something too good to hit.
“We were hoping for that; it’s hard to step up and go 3-for-3, 4-for-4,” he said.
Before Parker’s blast, the Patriots had stranded five runners in the first two innings, then wasted a two-on, no-out chance in the third on a popped-up bunt and Shay Tolbert’s line drive right to the center fielder that resulted in a double play.
Truman coach Amy Temples said she was a little surprised Parker wasn’t walked.
“I didn’t think she’d get some hacks,” Temples said. “She’s such a disciplined hitter, she sometimes hits bad pitches well.
“We were just walking a tightrope through four. I was telling them to keep plugging away. Our inability to get a bunt down was forcing us to make unnecessary gambles that I don’t like.”
Following Parker’s homer, Tori Zorich lashed a single to right and Tolbert plated her with a two-out double to left. The Patriots added two runs in the sixth when Parker ripped a single to center and the ball got by the outfielder to the fence. VunCannon came in standing, and Coen scored when the umpire ruled she twisted her torso around the catcher’s tag attempt.
VunCannon and Tolbert finished with two hits apiece.
“With our team, when we get a run or two, we start settling in,” Temples said. “We played so tight, but that’s indicative of this time of the year; it happens to everybody. One thing with this team is I will never count them out.”
Allen allowed nine hits and three walks with six strikeouts for the Bulldogs. Kearney’s one hit was a high infield fly that, thanks to a possible combination of wind, sun and lack of communication, fell between third and shortstop. It’s only other two baserunners came on an error and walk in the first, but Parker stranded them with a strikeout to start a streak of six straight strikeouts.
LIBERTY 6, FORT OSAGE 1: The host Indians couldn’t find an opening against Alyson Gerstner and the defense behind her, as the Liberty junior fired a one-hitter with seven strikeouts.
Fort Osage, which finished the season at 12-17, scored its lone run in the sixth when Katy Divers drew a two-out walk and a line drive by Kelsey McIntyre skipped off the outstretched first baseman’s glove and down the right field line for a triple.
Divers started in the circle for the Indians and yielded nine hits and a walk with three strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. Felicia Gwinn relieved her after the Blue Jays scored three runs in the fifth.
“This was a tough way to end our season,” Fort Osage coach Kelly Sullivan said. “I am very proud of our seniors, Katy Divers and Kelsey McIntyre. They have been instrumental to our team’s success over the last four years. They will be missed as we prepare for our future seasons."
Shelby Bendure had three hits and Jaycee Bernholtz a pair of RBI singles for Liberty, scored two runs in the second and one in the fourth. Ashlyn Sutton and Jennifer Harness stroked RBI doubles.